Generating fantasy maps

Martin O’Leary has created an excellent Fantasy Map Generator — and shared the source code!

I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.

At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.

There are a few different stages to the generator. First we build up a height-map of the terrain, and do things like routing water flow over the surface. Then we can render the ‘physical’ portion of the map. Finally we can place cities and ‘regions’ on the map, and place their labels.

O’Leary does a first-rate job of explaining the process in clear and comprehensive terms. Best of all, he has provided a series of interactive examples, which are both fun and instructive.

Via Boing Boing:


I have not played Hook, but it looks interesting:


Via Rock Paper Shotgun:

The idea is that each level gives you this abstracted circuit board-looking diagram. There are lines and connecting points and overlapping straight and hooked pins. When you press the big black circles they activate the circuit board and retract any of the pins which are connected at the time. The catch is that the pins are layered so trying to activate them out of order will mean tugging ineffectually at pins whose removal is blocked by others.

I’d describe it as zen circuit board kerplunk and across the fifty levels I’ve played I sort of zone out, concentrating on lines and connections. You can try to remove multiple pins with a button press if you’re feeling flash or you can go one by one. The more you solve the clearer the board gets as extraneous circuitry is removed. I’ve only had one situation where I’d made the puzzle impossible by removing something vital to another circuit.

MAME going open-source

Happy news for MAME developers.

Gamasutra reports that MAME is going open source to be a “learning tool for developers.”

This is notable because MAME is seen to be the premier emulator for arcade games, and the volunteers who maintain it have done laudable work to preserve artifacts of the game industry in a playable state.


Via BoingBoing.

MAME logo

Creating bacterial ‘fight clubs’ to discover new drugs

“Creating bacterial “fight clubs” is an effective way to find new drugs from natural sources.”

Bacteria Fight ClubThat is the conclusion of a team of Vanderbilt chemists who have been exploring ways to get bacteria to produce biologically active chemicals which they normally hold in reserve. These compounds are called secondary metabolites. They are designed to protect their bacterial host and attack its enemies, so they often have the right kind of activity to serve as the basis for effective new drugs.

… the “fight club” approach [analyzes] what happens when microbes compete.

… This procedure allowed the chemists to discover a new member of a class of biomolecules with broad-ranging activity ….


Via Slashdot.

This could be modeled as a game, either for pure entertainment — fight, bacteria, fight! — or as an aid to research (with bacteria fights!).

Verigames: verify software by playing games

VerigamesPlay games to help defend — or at least debug — your nation.

Formal Verification is the process of rigorously analyzing software to detect flaws that make programs vulnerable to exploitation. Performing this analysis requires highly skilled engineers with extensive training and experience. This makes the verification process costly and relatively slow.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) program is interested in improving and advancing the current processes of formal verification by significantly increasing the number of people working on formal verification projects at any given time through crowd-sourcing. CSFV augments the intensive work done by formal verification experts by greatly decreasing the skill required to do formal verification.

Much of the work required in the process of formal verification can be automated. Computers can be programmed to automatically scour software applications and verify the absence of certain bugs that make the applications vulnerable to misuse. However, certain formal verification work needs to be done by human experts specifically trained to discover and address issues that can be missed by computers. However, there aren’t enough of these experts to cover the huge amount of software generated in today’s modern computing world.

CSFV seeks to add more human expertise to the process of formal verification through fun and engaging video games. The games are created to assist in the formal verification process as players solve puzzles and increase their score. Video games that represent the underlying mathematical concepts allow more people to perform verification analysis of software efficiently. We empower non-experts to effectively do the work of formal verification experts—simply by playing and completing game objectives.

[Verigames: About Us]

Verigames YouTube channel

DARPA press release (December 4, 2013)

Via NetworkWorld, via Slashdot.

Example: Xylem

Xylem is a Verigame game which happens to have a nice YouTube video:

Software developers across the world have a major problem producing bug-free reliable code.

Our task is to help the specialists achieve their goal of ensuring that software that is produced is bug-free.

The way we do it is to take that code and turn it into some puzzles and put them in a game that we called Xylem, and crowdsource the games and the results of the game play help us to produce code that is bug-free.

What next?

This is all very interesting, but doesn’t go deep enough.

I want to know more about the principles of how we “take that code and turn it into some puzzles”.

Turn your screen into a playable Super Mario level

Desktop application Screentendo allows you to capture an image of your screen, and export the image as a playable Super Mario level.

Created by Aaron Randall.

It’s a Cocoa app, so Mac only unless you have a virtual machine to emulate OS X on your Windows or linux box.

The source code is available at GitHub.

Via BoingBoing.

This is cool. I like it. More like this, please.

I never got into Mario Brothers, haven’t touched it in many years. But I love the idea of making a level from a screenshot.

Zuckerberg on games and programming

In a recent online Q&A, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about playing games as a kid, and growing up to be a computer programmer.

Zuckerberg suggested that a lifetime spent playing video games could prep kids and young adults for careers as programmers.

“I actually think giving people the opportunity to play around with different stuff is one of the best things you can do,” he told the audience.

“I definitely would not have gotten into programming if I hadn’t played games as a kid.”

“Most of the engineers I know, who are the best engineers, are self-taught,” Zuckerberg added at the Q&A. “It’s not because they took some classes.”

[Source: Are video games the gateway to programming?]

Via Slashdot.


The JetCapsule — a luxury micro-yacht from Lazzarini Design — should be in a game:


Now is that James Bond cool, or what?

Check out this militarized version:

JetCapsule (militarized)

After completing your tour of duty, moor your micro-yacht at your floating spherical micro-fortress:

JetCapsule with Floating Base

Via Gizmodo, via Designboom.

I see an entire game arc in those three pictures. How about it, game designers? Got something for me?

Do Fruit Flies Have Emotions?

“For us, that’s a big step beyond just casually intuiting that a fly fleeing a visual threat must be ‘afraid,’ based on our anthropomorphic assumptions.It suggests that the flies’ response to the threat is richer and more complicated than a robotic-like avoidance reflex.Drosophila Thinking Question

This may be useful to game designers. Can we make a bot that actually feels fear … and if not, how close can we get?

Using fruit flies to study the basic components of emotion, a new Caltech study reports that a fly’s response to a shadowy overhead stimulus might be analogous to a negative emotional state such as fear — a finding that could one day help us understand the neural circuitry involved in human emotion.



Behavioral Responses to a Repetitive Visual Threat Stimulus Express a Persistent State of Defensive Arousal in Drosophila @ Cell Press

Media Mentions:

Fruit Flies Are Shown to Enter a Fearlike State @ NY Times

Animal emotions: Do fruit flies feel fear? @ CS Monitor


Drosophila @ Wikipedia

See Also:


Edutainment failed me

Treasure MathStorm“… it felt like being told you had to eat your vegetables before you could have a single bite of weird, unappealing fruitcake.”

— Aroon Karuna

Many people … look back fondly on legitimately-entertaining educational games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and The Oregon Trail. But the Learning Company games my parents bought me were marketed to and designed for parents and educators, not children. Rather than marrying learning to play, they crudely grafted educational material to rudimentary “game”-like behavior.

For children forced to play such games, it felt like being told you had to eat your vegetables before you could have a single bite of weird, unappealing fruitcake. You’d typically have to suffer through some convoluted fractions or a reading comprehension portion before you could be “rewarded” with a small slice of entertainment. The message ended up being that education was supposed to be a slog, not something you’d want to pursue for its own sake.

[Source: BoingBoing]